Bordeaux and Beyond
By W Peter Hoyne
In the month of May we traveled through the wine growing regions of the Loire Valley, Beaune (
Burgundy), Reims (Champagne) and the right and left bank of Bordeaux. We experienced new trends
in winemaking, recent discoveries and many yet to be discovered gems.
I have always been captivated by the exotic sweet whites from the regions of Barsac and Sauternes, France. Sadly, this is not the case with many consumers, as they tend to gravitate to drier styled whites with a hint of minerality. The Sauternes producers are cognizant of this fact and are addressing this current trend by crafting dry whites from the regional grapes of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Berenice Lurton, of the renowned 1er Cru Classe Sauternes house of Chateau Climens formed a collaboration with Pascal Jolivet of Sancerre fame. In 2019 Chateau Climens introduced a 100% dry Semillon wine called Asphodel, which translates as white flower. Pascal’s achievements with Loire whites have been described as “fresh, unstoppable and racy”, which is an understatement for these wines. The aromas of this wine are definitely delicate white flowers and jasmine that are enticing yet subtle. It opens with fresh notes of crushed white citrus, guava and chamomile. The middle has a touch of marzipan cream yet is not weighty as it effortlessly carries you to a long finish.
This may also be the time to revisit some of the heralded Barsac vintages from Chateau Climens including the 2015, 2011 and 2001. I have admired this property for decades as it stands at an equal level with the quality and precision of those Sauternes from famed Chateau d’Yquem. Chateau Climens’ history dates to the 16th century. This property continues to excel well beyond its neighbors, producing some of the most memorable wines from the Barsac region.
2019 Laflaurie Peyraguey: I recently re-tasted this wine at the chateau and again at the UGC venue in Chicago. It is remarkably tropical, fresh and vibrant at the same time. Mango, caramelized pineapple and orchard apricots greet you at the entry as it glides across the palate, with a burst of energy at the finish. Since 2014 this property has been under the new ownership of Silvio Denz who has restored the chateau into a boutique hotel and a two Michelin-star restaurant named “Lalique.”
Chateau d’Arche: Founded in 1580 it rests on a ridge that oversees the medieval village of Sauternes. Enologist and winemaker Matthieu Arroyo has set out to prove that Sauternes can be a modern white wine that observes tradition. Matthieu has crafted a brilliant style of Sauternes with 95% Semillon from 80–100 year-old vines, showcasing an undertone of orange marmalade, crème brulee and caramelized apricot freshness. Memorable are the 2018 and 2013 vintages along with their crème de tete, Arche Laflaurie. A new vision for the chateau is to expand agro tourism, encouraging visitors to visit this magical region of Sauternes. The eight room “Relais du Silence” of Chateau D’Arche will be renovated to accommodate those seeking to eat, drink and stay in Sauternes.
Still relatively unknown, there are several modestly priced Sauternes that are worth discovering, including Chateau D’Anna, Cuvee Louis D’Or and Chateau La Clotte Cazalis. Chateau D’Anna, Cuvee Louis D’Or is a small family parcel in Barsac planted with a majority of Semillon grapes on soils of limestone and white sand. The 2016 has caramelized citrus fruits with some delicate juicy acidity. Chateau La Clotte Cazalis rests on 12.5 acres in Barsac and has been part of the Lacoste family since 1779.
Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron: Located in Pauillac, in addition to their noteworthy reds, they craft a dry white wine called Lions de Suduiraut Blanc Sec made from 52% Semillon and 48% Sauvignon Blanc. In 2020 they introduced another duo of dry whites: Chateau Suduiraut Vielles Vignes and the pure Chateau Suduiraut Pur Semillon. This is Bordeaux’s answer to consumers interested in dry whites.
Chateau Franc Mayne: Don’t miss the opportunity to get onboard with the wines from Chateau Franc Mayne in Saint Emilion. This Grand Cru Classe estate was purchased by the Savare family who took control in 2018. There are 17 acres separated into three geographic zones with five different soil types. Pierre Arnald is one of the key figures guiding the new vision at the property. Technical director Sophie Mage, working together with enologist Thomas Duclos have restructured the wines, revealing a fresher and more subtle style. It expresses “the richness of the different soil types” in each parcel. Chateau Franc Mayne showcases a more elegant, rich and distinguished style than in the past. Duclos has consulted for top Right Bank properties including Chateau Canon and Chateau Troplong Mondote. He believes in a departure from the heavy handed, oak driven and super charged cult-like wines of the 1990’s. In 2019 they made a conversion to organic winemaking. The 2019 Chateau Franc Mayne is 100% Merlot and is one of the superstars from the Right Bank in this vintage. The color is opaque but there is a purity and roundness to the layers of exotic black and blue fruits that keep it lively, fresh and exciting to the end.
Chateau Franc Mayne has an 18th century residence with five elegantly appointed guest rooms, including one perched in a tree, that are available for reservations.
Chateau de Pommard: While Burgundy is becoming scarce, a secret gem worth seeking out is Chateau de Pommard, in the Côte de Beaune region of Burgundy, France. It has a well-established history of crafting expressive, noteworthy wines of grand cru and premier cru status. Winemaking in the commune of Pommard in Burgundy, France can be traced back to the Benedictine and Cistercian monks. There are 60 domains and over 187 producers in Pommard. Chateau de Pommard has been making wine since Claude Marey in 1726. There are 49 acres of walled vineyards designated as Clos Marey-Monge. It remains one of Burgundy’s largest privately-owned Clos. Within Clos Marey-Monge are seven distinct sub-soils composed of limestone and iron-rich clay, planted to Pinot Noir. Each plot has its own unique identity. In 2014 the San Francisco-based family of Carabello-Baum became the fifth owner of this estate. They were the first American family to own a winemaking chateau in Burgundy. Winemaking has been under the guidance of Burgundy native Emanuelle Sala since 2007. Daphnie Delarue is the project manger and driving force behind the advancement and recognition of this property. Presently, Chateau de Pommard produces 30 cuvees.
There are detailed plans to renovate the chateau next year into a 28 suite five-star hotel, focusing on high-end wine tourism.
We scoured the wine growing regions of France in search of restaurants that offered creative presentations at affordable prices. We encountered some remarkable culinary talent during our trip, which included a number of outstanding restaurants.
The village of Beaune is one of the epicenters of masterful chefs in France that will inspire you with regional favorites of beef bourguignon and beyond. A welcome surprise was that most meals were priced below 100 euro for two people. Remember, tax and gratuity are already included. The restaurants are intimate and relatively small with limited seating. They all require reservations in advance. These restaurants were our top three favorites in Beaune:
Cellier Volynasien is a perfect place to stop for lunch, hidden in a wine cellar within the town of Volnay.
Near the town of Reims within the region of Champagne, there is a three Michelin-star local favorite that is among the best dining experiences in the world. L'Assiette Champenoise lives up to its Michelin reputation at every level. Chef Arnaud Lallement received his first Michelin star at age 26. His presentations evolve with the seasons and are creative as well as timeless. The ambience is intimate, and the service is extremely attentive. Although memorable, this dining experience will set you back, so you may want to try lunch if you are on a budget. The restaurant is attached to a luxury five-star hotel if you care to unwind after dining.
In Sauternes there is a resurgence of new restaurants offering elevated dining experiences.
Restaurant Lalique, attached to Chateau Lafaurie Peyraguey, opened in 2021 and recently received two Michelin stars. The atmosphere is elegant and refined.
La Chapelle de Guiraud: Situated alongside Chateau Guiraud is the restaurant La Chapelle. Within the 18th century chapel are three distinct areas: the chapel, a salon and the main dining room with a center bar. There is dining on the terrace overlooking the vineyards during the summer months.
In the northern Bordeaux appellation of St. Estephe, is La Maison d’Estournel. Owned by Chateau Cos d’Estournel this Michelin Guide restaurant offers regional and local cuisine in a chic, comfortable atmosphere.
In close proximity to the quaint town of Saint Emilion on Bordeaux’s Right Bank are two front-runners.
In the heart of the vineyards of Chateau Troplong Mondote is another Michelin rated restaurant, Les Belles Perdrix. Chef David Charrier’s energy and talent is obvious with the innovative presentations described as “suspended in time” and “ascent.”
l’Atellier Candale Le Jardin has more casual French cuisine in a country setting with dining on a terrace.